Molly's Game Dec 26, 2017 13:22:03 GMT -5 via mobile
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 26, 2017 13:22:03 GMT -5
Molly's Game (2017)
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly's Game.
There is one common trait almost all gambling dramas share: they make the audience want to be the protagonist for the first half of the film only to retain roughly 1/3 of the same people by the time the credits roll. They seduce viewers by showing how lavish the lifestyle can be, showing the romanticism of a fast-living, purposeful existence until it all implodes on the main character as they wind up defeated, bloodied, and figuratively or literally left for dead. The brave that look past instances in the second half chalk up the events to the personal failures of the main character and assume that such ill-will won't be the outcome of their fate. We'll likely see a film about some of those brave souls in due time.
Molly's Game is the directorial debut of writer Aaron Sorkin, whose terrific screenplays have been the basis of films like David Fincher's The Social Network, Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, and the acclaimed HBO drama The Newsroom. Sorkin's success as a screenwriter has been fascinating, not simply because of his praise or the fact that his writing consistently results in uniformly well-made projects, but because his works are the rare ones that are defined and distinctive due to his prowess with words and crafting individuals. I hesitate to call his writing "realistic" in the denotative sense, for I feel the characters he writes do not speak like living, breathing human-beings; their dialog is far too neat and on-point. It's the way he penetrates the psyche of those he writes and illustrates their motivations on-screen that crackles with intensity, and in many instances, makes us wish real-life unfolded in this compelling, three-act manner that would make for an engaging, if exhausting life.
Although his writing transcended the directorial magic of Fincher and Boyle to make his name and style the most evident one in the mix, Molly's Game still gives him the opportunity to have his cake, eat it too, and reheat it again for seconds. It's an engrossing account of Molly Bloom, a boldly intelligent, assertive skier whose back-breaking injury cost her a shot at Olympic glory when she was very young. Amidst the "what now?" stage of her young life, she became the assistant of an argumentative entrepreneur who passed his long nights by organizing high-stakes poker games amongst movie stars and venture capitalists with a minimum buy-in of $10,000. Molly becomes smitten with the generous tips and intoxication integral to the game of skill, inspiring her to take a shot at running her own high-stakes table by redirecting her superior's clients to her personal table. The success is immediate and pots begin reaching up to $3 million after Molly takes her business to New York when Los Angeles proves too hot. She becomes both the house and the bank, assuming the unlimited powers of both entities.
Half of the film shows Molly's rise in flashback, interjecting events of the present day, where her attorney, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), tries to strike a deal with police following her arrest and possible indictment. Jaffey tries to secure a deal that will protect her and one that won't force her to whistleblow on the identities of famous high-rollers. One of Molly's initial gamblers is someone she refers to as "Player X," played by Michael Cera (who is allegedly supposed to be dramatizing Tobey Maguire), a cards prodigy who lives fast but plays his hands wisely. Another is Harlan Eustice (Bill Camp), a Joe Francis-esque producer who, in an electrifying scene, finds himself going "on tilt," an instance where poker players lose a big hand due to bad luck or misjudging the table and subsequently try to recoup their losses by impulsive and aggressive betting.
Sorkin thrusts us into what Molly calls a "tricky ecosystem," in one of her many on-point assessments via narration. It's an environment that involves numerous wealthy individuals, rich enough to buy virtually anything they wanted, surrounded by tangible and intangible luxuries — Molly, the cocktail waitresses, lady luck, and a seat — they couldn't purchase. "I don't like playing poker," Cera's "Player X" says keenly, "I like destroying lives." For a trying but immersive 140 minutes, Sorkin gets us neck-deep into this vicious, friendless underworld of gambling degenerates built upon rampant distrust and impersonal communication while commonfolk's annual salaries is carelessly tossed about in the form of circular plastic chips on a felt table. Over time we watch Molly's cold exterior accelerate into one that inspires her to willingly overwork herself to the point of living on uppers, sleeping for mere hours over the span of days, and warping herself and her mental health. Her health declines at the cost of maintaining a game with more money than she or anyone else in the same room could thoughtfully manage.
Molly is played by Jessica Chastain, the perfect actress to take on the real-life woman, adopting the fierce personality Sorkin has written for her. More often than not, Chastain carries the weight of Molly in terms of being the most powerful soul in a room made-up of powerful men, feeding their ill-advised desires. She sinks her teeth into exceptional dialog, caustically uttering the meticulously chosen words of the screenplay with gravitas and carrying the emotional detachment she did in Zero Dark Thirty. Elba's performance defines secondary, but even he has heavy moments in the form of perfectly worded monologues that describe his feelings with pinpoint accuracy. More surprising, however, is Kevin Costner as Molly's father, the archetypal tough-love father always demanding greatness from his daughter. Costner's inclusion in the first half of the film suggests a supporting role that is more for the sake of having a recognizable face in the cast than one who can manifest any memorable moments. However, a late-arrival emotional moment packs a lot of punch that squanders what could've been a wasted appearance by an actor we somehow need to consistently be reminded is capable of generating real impact when he appears on-screen.
But it's foremost to say how important Molly and Chastain are to this film, and the fact that the latter understands the former well enough to embody her scene-after-scene with dimension that makes Molly's Game what it is. Sorkin's writing makes Molly loquacious enough to be eminently fascinating based on the way she addresses the people in her life within the film and how she gives us the perspective through narration. While a chronological structure might've benefited this film better than the crosscut narrative, Sorkin still manages to give us a film that doesn't die by that element, which could've been a coffin-sealing nail.
Don't downplay the success of Molly's Game by saying Sorkin's film works as a comfortable pair; it's the equivalent of a straight flush for the Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd, Bill Camp, and Jeremy Strong. Directed by: Aaron Sorkin.